Album Review

Posted: Saturday 6th May 2006
Share this:

Brahms: German Requiem (ein Deutsches Requiem) – BBC Radio 3

“…a fascinating new disc on the Guild label, featuring a complete performance of the Requiem in its piano duet version, played by Jeremy Filsell and Roderick Chadwick, and sung by the Vasari Singers under Jeremy Backhouse.

It was this arrangement that was used in the English première of the work in 1871, which took place at the house of the distinguished surgeon Sir Henry Thompson.

Brahms intended his arrangement for people wishing to get to know the work at home, rather than for public performance – so I suppose it’s reasonable to ask what the point of recording it is, and I can only say that the proof of the pudding is in the hearing: it’s artistically perfectly viable and certainly doesn’t feel like a cheap imitation. Actually what it does do to the piece is very interesting. It effectively neutralises the orchestral part, and throws the weight onto the choral writing; and this makes you more aware of the abstract ‘stuff’ of the music itself. And I found it very moving to hear the work like this, shorn of its orchestral finery, but just as splendid in its nakedness.

On the whole the performance is good, though not really spectacular. The Vasaris’ sound is neat and rather light, which for my money isn’t quite what you want when you’re throwing the focus of such a massive work onto the choir. They do buckle under the strain in places, especially in those great fugues that just go on and on. And I’m not sure about the recording sound, which is muddy and piano-heavy. But these quibbles don’t ruin the performance, and the choir makes up for them by being very musical and extremely well-disciplined.

But I think special plaudits must go to the pianists, Filsell and Chadwick, who produce some beautiful colours, and some exciting muscular playing in the big orchestral tuttis. Overall then, a very interesting disc, and well worth considering, though don’t buy it instead of an orchestral version.”

James Weeks
BBC Radio 3